Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Tehran denies using Chinese gas

AP AND AFP , TEHRAN

Iran yesterday rejected reports that Tehran has used Chinese uranium gas for enrichment, insisting on the quality of its own domestically produced gas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also said Iran will respond to a European proposal in the nuclear standoff with Iran once it receives it officially -- but he emphasized that any deal must respect Iran's right to enrich uranium.

"Any judgment about the [European] package is not mature. Nothing has been officially presented to Iran yet. One should not be hasty," Asefi told reporters.

"We cannot retreat. The proposal should provide ways to secure our rights," Asefi said.

"The basis of our work is clear. We won't get back to the past. We won't stop uranium enrichment," he said.

In their latest bid to defuse escalating international tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear drive, Britain, France and Germany are preparing a package of trade and technology benefits if Tehran stops enriching uranium.

The four-page draft proposal is due to be discussed among the EU-3, plus China, Russia and the US in London on Wednesday.

A draft proposal says world powers should support Iran's choice to build several light water reactors and set up a nuclear fuel bank that would guarantee Tehran's access to reactor fuel but not the sensitive fuel cycle technology.

It would also have the US drop restrictions on Iran's buying US commercial airplanes or parts.

But if Tehran does not accept the deal, sanctions should follow.

These punitive measures could include an arms embargo, political and economic measures, a visa and travel ban on selected high-ranking officials and a freeze of assets of individuals and organizations connected to or close to the regime.

Asefi also repeated Iran's view that any economic sanctions would leave its foreign trading partners worse off.

"We have broad trade and economic ties with European and non-European countries. These ties can be damaged and this damage will harm European countries even more," Asefi said.

"It is a pity that these relations are challenged because of indiscretion in the nuclear case," he said.

Enrichment, in which uranium gas is spun in centrifuges, can produce either fuel for a reactor or material for a nuclear warhead.

Iran heightened international concerns by announcing April 11 that it had enriched uranium for the first time with 164 centrifuges.

Diplomats in Vienna later said it appeared Iran used Chinese uranium gas it obtained in the 1990s to feed into centrifuges because its domestically produced uranium gas was not pure enough.

"It is not correct. We don't use any foreign materials for enrichment. Uranium enriched at Natanz is from the uranium gas produced at Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility," Asefi told reporters.

"The gas produced in Isfahan is of high quality," he said.

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